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To no one's surprise, Americans were expected to spend more money on Valentine's Day today than ever before, to the tune of about $19.7 million, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey. That's more money on any holiday except Christmas, outpacing Mother's Day, Halloween and Easter.

Most of that money will be spent on a significant other or spouse, but Valentine's is increasingly becoming a holiday to spend on kids and pets.

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My wife and I felt like incredibly cheap parents when we once again sent our two daughters to their daycare with a bag of dollar-store paper valentines — with name brands like Sofia the First and Frozen on them, mind you — to give to their friends, only for our kids to return from their Valentine's Day party with bags filled not just with paper valentines but treats and small toys.

"When did Valentine's Day become Halloween?" my wife wondered out loud.

Just a few hours earlier, our publisher was talking about how people are now buying Valentine's gifts for their pets, a conversation that was immediately followed by an email from a national public relations agency to interview someone about the best gifts for spoiling your canine or feline friend this Feb. 14. The NRF survey indicated that $681 million would be spent to show our pets how much we love them this Valentine's Day. Whatever happened to a hearty, totally free belly scratch?

Of course, we all know that Valentine's, like most American holidays, has been overrun by commercialism, with pressure to buy more and more every year to show how much we presumably love each other, our children or our furry companions.

But at least the holiday is still, for the most part, about giving to others.

In China, people celebrate a holiday that is the antithesis of Valentine's Day, all about celebrating how much you love yourself by purchasing your own gifts online. Singles Day is observed on Nov. 11 each year in China, taking its name because the date consists of four "ones" (11/11). While its exact origins are sketchy, it has evolved into the biggest online shopping day in the world. Last Nov. 11, more than $14 billion was spent on the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba. Compare that to the approximately $1.3 billion spent on Cyber Monday in the U.S., the largest online shopping day here.

So what does Valentine's Day look like in other cultures around the world?

It's no secret that Valentine's Day isn't exactly the most popular holiday, especially for those who have been unlucky in love. Those who despise it might find some humor in a tradition that has since been banned in France, often considered the most romantic country in the world. (In fact, it's widely believed the first Valentine was sent in 1415 by Frenchman Charles the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in London.)

Something known as the "drawing of love" in France would see single men and women call to each other from facing houses until they were all paired off. Women who didn't get matched up would have a ceremonial bonfire instead, at which they tossed in pictures of the men who rejected them while cursing the opposite sex. The French government eventually banned the "celebration" because of the uncontrollable ruckus it would create.

In Norfolk, England, there is actually a Santa Claus-like figure who comes around to deliver gifts, a tradition held over from Victorian times when more money was spent on Valentine's gifts than Christmas presents there, according to a BBC article. Jack Valentine makes his rounds on Feb. 13, knocking on children's doors and leaving treats behind for them.

Unlike in America, where Valentine's Day is traditionally a matter of males lavishing gifts on females — men are predicted to spend twice as much as women on the holiday this year — in Japan, it's the women who will do most of the gift giving. Barentaindee draws its inspiration from the Western traditions of Valentine's Day, even being celebrated on Feb. 14. Women give different types of chocolate to the men in their lives, including something called "giri-choko," which literally translates to "obligation chocolate" given to bosses, classmates, fathers and brothers. There's even a cheaper chocolate than that made for giving to someone you don't want to feel left out. Extra-special chocolates, sometimes even homemade, are given to those men the women actually have romantic feelings toward.

While men get to reap the delicious rewards of Barentaindee, a month later on March 14, they are expected to reciprocate the love on White Day by giving women gifts. Have no fear, American males: The unspoken rule is that gifts and chocolate given by the men are supposed to be two to three times more valuable than the chocolate they received on Valentine's Day, so it isn't all roses in Japan.

Speaking of roses, I've got to head out to the flower shop. There's nothing quite like the tradition of last minute.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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